Our review of Best of Warner Brothers: 20-Film Comedy Collection, published July 14th, 2013, is also available.
New York's most powerful gangster is about to get in touch with his feelings. YOU try telling him his 50 minutes are up!
Comic genius is at work with this seriously funny tale of a mobster for the '90s and his unwilling shrink, presented in a fine disc by Warner.
There must be something in the air, what with the mobster and his therapist genre making a sudden splash of success in the popular culture. Analyze This and its HBO series cousin The Sopranos just seem so right for the '90s, roughly mixing the no nonsense tough-guy world of the mobster with the touchy, feely, pop a Prozac, endless therapy world of the psychiatrist. The true key is probably that in the '90s millions upon millions of people seek professional help for their mental troubles every day, and can understand that even a mob boss could benefit from psychiatric therapy.
The film opens in classic mobster-movie style, as Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) narrates a story of how the Mafia "Commission" arranged an ill-fated meeting in 1957 at an upstate New York farm. The "Commission" never met again—until we flash back to the present, and find that a meeting has been set in two weeks (with hopefully better results!). Paul is having some rough times, as his mentor, Manetta (Joseph Rigano) is killed in a hit and he just can't seem to muster any enthusiasm to beat a confession out of a traitor.
In the interim, we are introduced to Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal), a psychiatrist with an active practice in a small town outside of New York City. Ben is a little bored with treating the trivial mental anguish of the middle class. He seems to yearn for something fresh and exciting, but little does he know what is in store for him when he absent-mindedly rear-ends a car.
Two of Vitti's men, Jimmy (Richard Castellano) and Jelly (Joe Viterelli) hop out, and forcefully dissuade Ben from exchanging insurance information, probably because they've got a body in the trunk! Ben is quite flustered at the incident and hands over his business card before proceeding on his way to his father's book signing party. Matters are not improving for Paul Vitti, who is rushed to the hospital after suffering a severe panic attack while discussing business. Shaken, Paul confides his distress to Jelly, who tells Paul that he knows just the head doctor!
Jelly is a man of his word, and the very next day, with Mr. Vitti in tow, he crashes one of Ben's regular therapy sessions. A fat money clip is all the inducement necessary for the milquetoast patient to abandon his session in favor of the famous mobster. After just a few minutes and some basic questions, Paul Vitti feels so good that he pronounces himself cured and happily leaves, much to Ben's relief!
With that excitement out of the way, Ben flies down to Miami for his impending wedding to television news reporter Laura MacNamara (Lisa Kudrow). Pre-martial bliss is short-lived when a bedroom crisis so enrages Vitti that in the middle of the night he sends Jelly to kidnap Ben. Ben is so shocked when Vitti swerves between anger and crying that he sticks around for some impromptu therapy. This time, Vitti is so impressed that he declares Ben is his doctor (whether he wants to be or not!).
Laura is unhappy with this whole situation, but when rival mob boss Primo Sidone (Chazz Palminteri) attempts to have Vitti killed and the would-be assassin literally crashes the wedding, she is livid and flies back to New York in a huff. Ben feels trapped between them, and prompts Vitti to call Sidone and patch things up. The call is a hilarious mash of mob bluster and psychobabble and settles nothing.
Returning to New York, Ben Sobel finds a gargantuan water fountain in his front yard (a gift from Vitti) and a team of FBI agents in his living room who pressure him to wear a wire to the next session. Ben refuses, but his dreams so concern him that he tracks down Vitti at a funeral for more improvised therapy. So far, Ben knows that Vitti's problems are somehow related to his father, but is frustrated in his attempts to make progress.
Matters are complicated when the FBI doctors a tape and convinces Ben that Vitti means to kill him, at the same time that Vitti is resisting the urgings of his advisor, Salvatore Masiello (Pat Cooper) to eliminate Ben before he can leak any mob secrets. When Masiello finally convinces Vitti that Ben is ready to squeal to the FBI, Vitti invites Ben to a dinner at his favorite restaurant, perhaps for his last meal?
When Ben learns that Vitti's father was murdered in that very restaurant, and in full view of Vitti, Ben is certain that he holds the key to Vitti's recovery. Ben flushes the wire and just in time, too, before Vitti drives him to the middle of nowhere and seems very ready to let Ben sleep with the fishes. Ben's quick thinking and professional skill save his life and let Vitti achieve a breakthrough, discovering all his problems stem from overwhelming guilt over the death of Vitti's father. Vitti is overcome with emotion and unable to fend for himself at just the time that two more of Sidone's henchmen stage another attempt on Vitti. Jelly saves the day once again, but not without some panicked help from Ben.
You might think that Vitti is cured, but a schmaltzy TV commercial prompts a bad reaction. Dr. Sobol is in the middle of marrying Laura when the indefatigable Jelly appears out of nowhere and forces the ceremony to a rapid conclusion before forcibly extracting Ben, but not for therapy! Jelly knows Vitti is not up to the pressure of the meeting of "the Commission" and figures Ben can stand in on Vitti's behalf. Ben does a hysterical turn as a mobster and engages Sidone in some public therapy. Just as Sidone is ready to kill this annoying man, Vitti strolls in, feeling much better after some family therapy, and drops a bombshell on "the Commission." When Sidone confronts Vitti and gunplay ensues, a horde of NYC police and federal agents swarm in and arrest the whole lot
In the end, Vitti is cured, though a little restrained, and Ben lives happily ever after with his new bride. Fini.
Warner is to be commended for giving us a video transfer that looks this good. Colors are well-saturated and vibrant and blacks are deep and solid. I noticed neither shimmering or ringing, nor film grain or video noise of any sort. It may seem odd for a comedy, but I have to classify this as reference quality stuff, particularly since Warner blessed us with an anamorphic transfer. I noticed only one small but annoying video issue, noted below.
The audio is impressive and entertaining across the frequency spectrum. The vocals are crisp and clear whether from the squeakier Lisa Kudrow or the low rumbling Joe Viterelli. Voices and effects pan nicely across the front soundstage with clear channel separation. The action scenes are worthy of a mention, as they showcase some excellent sound effects and use the subwoofer to give the gunfire an impressive thumping quality. This is pretty good stuff, and holds its own against all but a well-crafted action movie audio track.
Whoever first came up with the idea for casting Robert De Niro as Paul Vitti is a certifiable genius! With a tough-guy résumé littered with stellar mobster roles in The Godfather Part II, The Untouchables, GoodFellas, and Casino, De Niro is utterly perfect to play Vitti. The audience is primed to accept De Niro as a mobster without question, but then we see him struggling to be a mobster amidst panic attacks and emotional crises. The stark contrast is the key ingredient to the potency of the comedy, enhancing the natural humor of the written script into something much greater, and setting up Billy Crystal to play to his strengths as a basically likable guy forced into a bewildering array of situations beyond his control. Chazz Palminteri is hilarious as the straight-guy mobster and Lisa Kudrow is appropriately low-key as the aggrieved spouse-to-be (and without the grating edge of her role on Friends). As indicated on the commentary, much of the supporting cast was drawn from the streets of New York, and their authentic look is testament to the success of this casting method.
It may not be evident at first glance, but Analyze This owes much of its success to the seriousness with which Robert De Niro, actor/producer Billy Crystal, and writer/director Harold Ramis took the story. Paul Vitti is the archetypal mobster, ringing true at every turn, even when he is in emotional turmoil. Furthermore, his emotional problems are rooted in a well thought-out and realistic traumatic event at the same time that they manifest themselves in realistic fashion Ben Sobel is a very real psychiatrist, approaching the turmoil of Vitti's problems as an actual psychiatrist would and with (bewildered and nervous) compassion, Nobody goes for the cheap laugh or the gross-out here, but they patiently milk humor in a more relaxed fashion from the constant clash between the inconsistent demands of the mob and Ben's usual, quiet world.
A nice package of extras compliment the movie. On one commentary track, Harold Ramis is his usual entertaining self with insights and stories, and on the second commentary track Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro provide their (separately recorded) observations. While it is true that the second commentary track is frequently separated by long pauses, it is not too distracting, and I think you will appreciate the very serious and measured comments from De Niro, which might have been overwhelmed if he and Billy Crystal had recorded the track together (as he notes himself). I also note with appreciation the approximately five minute "gag reel" segment, which is an extra I wish was more common. A high-quality theatrical trailer and filmographies round out the extras. The main menu is static but uses a catchy bit of music, and Warner uses the annoying snapper case as usual.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In a number of scenes, the flesh tones appear overly red or purple to the point where they are mildly distracting. I can't quite tell whether this is a disc or a film issue, because in some scenes it does seem that the lighting coloration is to blame, but in others I didn't spot any obvious cause.
The only point of contention regarding the story is in the end scene where Ben Sobel fills in for Paul Vitti by borrowing an expensive Italian suit and affecting a bizarre mobster persona. While it is true this is a departure from the established character, I think it is equally true that the scene is much funnier than a more restrained scene. Some may feel this is a flaw and some may feel it was a trade-off worth making. I tend to fall in the latter camp, as not letting Billy Crystal have an opportunity for a mini-standup routine would have been a shame.
A brilliant comedic mix of mobsters and psychiatry with some fine acting talent gets a superb treatment by Warner, and at a reasonable price ($25). Are you thinking of NOT buying this movie? Fuggedaboutit!
Without a question, the film and disc are acquitted! The Court thanks the defendants for their patience.
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